A woman born with a cleft palate has revealed how ten gruelling operations have transform her face – and left people shocked at how different she now looks.
Laura Hawkes, 25, from Amberley, West Sussex was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate.
Despite growing up in a loving family and having supportive friends, at school Laura was mercilessly teased by cruel boys about her appearance.
The bullying left Laura severely lacking in self-esteem during her teenage years and wanting to hide away from the world and avoid social situations.
Look at her now! Laura Hawkes, 25, from Amberley says people are ‘shocked and amazed’ by the incredible transformation on her face following a series of ten operations in 25 years
Taunts: Laura says her self-esteem was left at rock bottom by cruel comments about her ‘squashed face’ from bullies at school
Laura was born with a cleft palate; one in 700 children in the UK are affected by the birth defect
Photographs of Laura at birth just after she was born clearly show a large hole between where her top lip should be and her nostril.
A cleft palate is defined as a gap or split in the upper lip or roof of the mouth caused by the baby’s face not joining together properly during development in the womb and affects around one in every 700 babies in the UK.
She explains: ‘Growing up I was never made to feel different by my family or friends as my cleft was never a big talking point, but school was different as it was pointed out by many different boys who bullied me over my squashed nose and flat face,’ she said.
‘The one time I always remember is my first day at grammar school aged 14.
‘My teacher left the room for something and the boy directly opposite me was pushing his nose into his face and laughing at me.
‘I immediately burst into tears and ran out saying I never wanted to go back again.
My teacher’s response to me asking to move seats after the incident was: ‘I’m here to teach you, not to make you happy.
‘I still see some of the boys that bullied me at school around, I have nothing to say to those kinds of people and I wouldn’t give them the time of day.
‘I was made to feel ashamed about the way I looked and cried a lot over the fact I couldn’t look ‘normal’ because of those boys. I never saw myself as someone who was ugly I just knew I was different and unhappy over the way I looked.’
Excitement: Laura says that she didn’t face going under the knife with trepidation because she knew each operation would improve her looks
‘I knew I wanted a nose job from the age of seven’: Laura says she knew surgery, which included taking bone from her hip, could dramatically change her facial appearance
Lack of support: One school teacher who she reported the bullying to told her ‘I’m not here to make you happy, I’m here to teach’
Laura pictured after a recent surgery; she also had to wear braces until she was aged 20
My biggest operation was double jaw surgery where they cut my jaw on both sides, pulled it forward and screwed it back into place…
Laura says that she knew ‘from the age of about seven’ that she wanted a nose job and would get excited about the prospect of surgery.
Explaining, she says: ‘I had my first surgery at just three-days-old in London under a cleft lip and palate team to close my lip.
‘I went on to have nine more surgeries, one of which involved taking a bone graft from my hip aged 10.
‘My biggest operation was my double jaw surgery where they cut my jaw on both sides, pulled it forward and screwed back into place, my jaw was then wired together by my braces to keep it in the right place.
She continues: ‘I’ve also had my skull tissue taken out and threaded through my top lip to make it fuller which left me with 14 staples in my head, whilst I also had my bone marrow hip scar tissue reopened to be used in my top lip to fill it out.’
Awareness: The 25-year-old is asking people to donate to charities helping people with cleft palates in other countries
Scar tissue from when Laura had bone removed from her hip was also used to fill out her lips
People have contacted Laura via her Instagram account asking who her surgeon is. Right: As Laura looks now
‘I never saw myself as someone who was ugly – I just knew I was different and unhappy over the way I looked’
Laura pictured with her mother since her most recent surgery
Finally, Laura, whose speech and teeth were so affected by her condition that she was required to have speech therapy until the age of 10 and braces until the age of 20, detailed the reaction she has received from those who have witnessed her transformation and had a message about people like her who suffer from a cleft palate.
‘People have been shocked and amazed at my transformation photos and are always asking what I’ve had done to achieve the way I look now,’ she said.
‘I’ve had other people with clefts reach out to me to find out who my surgeon is and where I have my surgeries as they are unhappy with their own previous surgeries.
‘I don’t think cleft lip and palate is a well-known birth defect even one in 700 babies have it and it can also be hereditary.
‘I’d urge people to do research as there are many charities who help underprivileged children in other countries get the surgery.’